Delta changes upgrade, award prices + policies

The Delta SkyMiles program announced significant changes this week regarding policies and prices for upgrades and award flights. And, like with most announcements, the news is a mix of good and bad depending on what is important to you as a customer. There are lots of little changes which appear to be positive but the biggest changes will have a negative impact on the most customers; overall it is hard for me to see today’s announcement as good news for most consumers. Most notably, award prices will be “dynamic” (officially and more so than already) for travel starting in June 2016.

Award Flights & Mileage Upgrades

The company is highlighting its increase in award seats available at 7,500 SkyMiles for a one way trip. These are available for travel through February 2016 on limited dates and generally only 21+ days in advance.


That’s good news for those who like cheap, short flights but it is balanced by the more ominous news regarding award pricing for Summer 2016 (and beyond) travel.

For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other dynamics.  Most Award prices will remain unchanged. Miles needed to upgrade under the Mileage Upgrade Award program will increase…

The suggestion that “most award prices will remain unchanged” is only partially good news. The current prices are highly variable when flying on Delta-operated flights, something I’ve demonstrated with some deep-dive analysis across lots of routes and flights. And that is all before the carrier adds on “other dynamics” by which the rates can change. I’m working on getting more details on this, including whether the new rates are tied to fares, inventory buckets or use of a Ouija Board.

Read More: How Much for that SkyMiles Award??

For mileage-based upgrades the company is raising rates – specific numbers remain unpublished – and easing the minimum fare-class requirement for those redemptions. The new rules are effective only for travel on or after 1 June 2016 and include:

  • Within/between North America and Northern South America (Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, and Venezuela): Published Main Cabin fares booked in Y, B, M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, or T class.
  • For all other International markets
    • Published Main Cabin fares for Delta-marketed and operated flights booked in Y, B, M, S, H, Q, or K class.
    • For Air France/KLM marketed and/or operated flights, Mileage Upgrade Awards may be used to upgrade one cabin for flights booked in Y, B, or M class.

This is a nice expansion of eligible fare for upgrades and eligible markets for the “Americas” upgrades, but without insight into the award pricing excitement over those improvements should remain tempered.

Transcon Upgrades

Arguably the best news out of the today’s announcement is for Delta’s Diamond and Platinum Medallion members. They will, once again, be allowed to upgrade on the premium transcon flights (JFK-LAX/SFO) using regional upgrade certificates. That benefit disappeared at the end of 2013 when the Global upgrades were introduced. This is a nice give-back and helps augment the semi-official, day-of-departure occasional upgrades top elites receive on these flights.

More Earning Options

Starting next week more ancillary spending will earn both Medallion Qualifying Dollars and reward miles. Specifically, purchasing Preferred Seats, Comfort+, and paid premium cabin upgrades will all earn points under the new rules. This makes sense given that the company gets the money and it wants to reward such spending, but it still comes up short on bag fees, change fees and other such ancillaries.

There are still a lot of open questions, especially surrounding the new “dynamic” award pricing and I’ve reached out to Delta for clarification on that front. But, pending those answers, this is what is known right now. And it is mostly bad news for most consumers.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. So if the dynamic pricing has already gone into effect for travel as of June 1, aren’t there roughly a few days of availability that would give some sort of an insight of what these award prices are?

    When the rumor mongering started about Skymiles converting to revenue driven several years ago I pooh-poohed a lot of it as reading too few tea leaves with too much gloom and doom, but virtually everything the pessimists predicted has now come to pass. The only shoe left to drop is making elite status completely spend based. Can’t imagine that isn’t coming.

    1. There is some data, enough to get a glimpse of what is possible. But not enough to fully draw conclusions yet. And, depending on your point of view, the numbers are either outlandish or just really high but still reasonable in some cases.

    1. Not affected how?

      It has not required a “global” upgrade cert for a while now so complimentary or regionals have been allowed, right?

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